Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Scratch Art


I have an Usborne Book called "The Rainy Day Book" which has lots of activities for kids to do on rainy days. Yesterday wasn't rainy, but since Spring has decided to avoid Minnesota all together this year, we stayed in once again due to the cold weather. These are what we made:






What you need:

A blank piece of paper
Wax crayons
Black poster paint
Paintbrush (I used a foam brush)



Directions:

1. Using a selection of crayons, draw various wide stripes onto the paper. Press down hard on the crayons so that the colors are dark and strong.



2. Using the paint brush, paint over the stripes using black paint. It may take 2 coats of paint to cover completely.



3. Allow the paint to dry completely, about 1-2 hours.

4. When the paint is dry, use the handle of the paintbrush or another sharp object (such as an end of a pen, a toothpick, a popsicle stick, etc.) scratch your design into the paint, to show the wax color underneath. You could leave parts untouched, to add to the stylized effect.


Sunday, April 27, 2008

My First Daring Baker's Challenge-- Cheesecake Pops


This was my first Daring Baker's challenge. I was really excited when I opened up the recipe, Cheesecake Pops. The picture that was attached looked so fun and so appealing and bright and cheery and colorful, that I couldn't read the recipe fast enough! I was happy when I finished the recipe to learn that there didn't seem to be anything that made me too nervous about attempting this.

This month's challenge was chosen by Elle and Deborah. It is from the dessert cookbook Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey by Jill O'Connor.

It definitely is one that I will make again when I want to bring a festive dessert to a gathering or party. They tasted amazing... however, I think I would have liked the chocolate shell to be a soft and creamy chocolate rather than one that hardens (although the presentation wouldn't have turned out the same). I also left a few cheesecake pops naked so that we could swirl them in caramel before eating. Heavenly!!

The actual preparation of the recipe went well and without incident. I chose to stretch it out over 2 days so that I could take advantage of the refrigeration and freezer times. The only little mishap I had was when I prepared the water bath, it seemed to be a bit tricky to pour the water in the roaster without the water getting into the prepared batter pan. I quickly scooped out the water from the batter and ended up taking the entire cheesecake pan out of the roaster and filling the roaster with water first and THEN placing the cake pan back into the water (which of course, led my fingers to dip into the scalding water.... ouch.). And mine seemed to take a bit longer to bake until it was set.... it was probably closer to an hour before it was ready to come out of the oven.

Here is the recipe:

Makes 30 – 40 Pops

5 8-oz. packages cream cheese at room temperature

2 cups sugar

¼ cup all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon salt

5 large eggs

2 egg yolks

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

¼ cup heavy cream

Boiling water as needed

Thirty to forty 8-inch lollipop sticks

1 pound chocolate, finely chopped – you can use all one kind or half and half of dark, milk, or white

2 tablespoons vegetable shortening (omit if using flavored coatings)

Assorted decorations such as chopped nuts, colored jimmies, crushed peppermints, mini chocolate chips, sanding sugars, dragees (optional )




1. Position oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees F. Set some water to boil.

2. In a large bowl, beat together the cream cheese, sugar, flour, and salt until smooth. If using a mixer, mix on low speed. Add the whole eggs and the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well (but still at low speed) after each addition. Beat in the vanilla and cream.

3. Grease a 10-inch cake pan (not a springform pan), and pour the batter into the cake pan. Place the pan in a larger roasting pan. Fill the roasting pan with the boiling water until it reaches halfway up the sides of the cake pan. Bake until the cheesecake is firm and slightly golden on top, 35 to 45 minutes.



4. Remove the cheesecake from the water bath and cool to room temperature. Cover the cheesecake with plastic wrap and refrigerate until very cold, at least 3 hours or up to overnight.

5. When the cheesecake is cold and very firm, scoop the cheesecake into 2-ounce balls and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Carefully insert a lollipop stick into each cheesecake ball. Freeze the cheesecake pops, uncovered, until very hard, at least 1 – 2 hours.

**I had this great cake slicer that worked perfectly for cutting the cheesecake into 2 oz. (give or take) squares and helped alleviate any messy edges that a knife would create**




6. When the cheesecake pops are frozen and ready for dipping, prepare the chocolate. In the top of a double boiler, set over simmering water, or in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water, heat half the chocolate and half the shortening, stirring often, until chocolate is melted and chocolate and shortening are combined. Stir until completely smooth. Do not heat the chocolate too much or your chocolate will lose it’s shine after it has dried. Save the rest of the chocolate and shortening for later dipping, or use another type of chocolate for variety.
Alternately, you can microwave the same amount of chocolate coating pieces on high at 30 second intervals, stirring until smooth.

7. Quickly dip a frozen cheesecake pop in the melted chocolate, swirling quickly to coat it completely. Shake off any excess into the melted chocolate. If you like, you can now roll the pops quickly in optional decorations. You can also drizzle them with a contrasting color of melted chocolate (dark chocolate drizzled over milk chocolate or white chocolate over dark chocolate, etc.) Place the pop on a clean parchment paper-lined baking sheet to set. Repeat with remaining pops, melting more chocolate and shortening (or confectionery chocolate pieces) as needed.
Refrigerate the pops for up to 24 hours, until ready to serve.



Thursday, April 24, 2008

Paper Lantern Decorations






Paper decorations are an inexpensive way to decorate for a party or festive occasion or even if you just want to add some cheeriness to a room. These lanterns look like traditional Chinese lanterns but don't put any type of light inside of them. They would be extremely flammable.

What you need:

Bright, eye catching paper
Glue
A ruler
Adhesive tape
A pencil
Scissors
A piece of string, yarn, thread, etc.



Directions:

Fold the paper in half, along it's length. Make sure when you fold it, the decorative side faces outwards.

Make folds 2 cm from the long edges (note in picture below). Open out the 2cm folds, leaving a crease.

Cut strips every 2 cm wide as far as the fold. (I used a pencil to mark off the lines to cut) Be sure not to cut all of the way to the edge.



Open the paper so that its plain side is facing you. Spread a small amount of glue all the way along one of the end strips.



Bend the paper into a tube and press the two end strips together.



Using adhesive tape, loop a length of thread across the top of the lantern. This way, you will be able to hang it up wherever you like.
****DO NOT PUT ANY TYPE OF LIGHT INSIDE THESE PAPER LANTERNS****

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Homemade Scratch Pads


My daughter comes home from school everyday with at least 6-7 worksheets that are only printed on one side. It surprises me how much paper is wasted by her school. I've been saving the worksheets to use as scrap paper and in the months of January, February and March alone, I had a stack of one sided worksheets that was equal to a full ream of office paper.

Sometimes I'll make homemade scratch pads out of the worksheets. I know I could easily just keep the full sized worksheets in a pile and use it as individual pieces scratch paper- but let's face it... it's way more fun to write on a little scratch pad than a single sheet of paper (or maybe it's the satisfying sound it makes when you rip the sheet off of the scratch pad?)

Either way, here's how you can make your own recycled scratch pads:

What you need:

25 sheets of paper (worksheets, junk mail, etc. Anything that has print on only one side)
Elmer's glue
Paint brush (optional... your finger works well, too)
2-3 clothespins
Paper cutter (a pair of scissors will work, too)



Directions:
*25 sheets of paper will give you two separate note pads*

Quarter the 25 sheets of paper with the paper cutter.

Combine 2 of the quarters together to make 2 separate stacks of 50. Make sure all of the sheets have the blank side facing up.

Stack and tap the sheets carefully and several times, creating a compacted, neat stack.

Use two of the clothespins near an end to keep the stack tight and together.

Use either the paintbrush or your finger to apply glue to the edge of one end of the stack. Repeat with 2-3 more coats of glue, waiting a few minutes in between each coat.

Place a third clothespin in the center to keep the edge stacked together evenly.



Rest the stack of paper so that the glued edge is slightly elevated and allow to dry overnight.

Repeat this process with the other stack of 50 sheets.

The next day, remove the clothespins.

These make great little gifts for teachers and coworkers!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Sunny Art


Just an hour in the sun will fade construction paper and leave behind prints that will amaze your little ones! They can leave the silhouette as is or they can outline them or color them... the possibilities are endless! Finding creative items to place on the paper is half the fun.



What You Need:

A sunny day
Construction Paper (darker colors work the best)
Objects from nature or around the house (flatter items work best)

Directions:

Lay construction paper outside in the sun. Arrange items on the paper so their silhouettes will look nice. Wait about an hour and remove the items. You will see the paper has faded around the objects.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

It's amazing what a little coat of paint will do




This isn't a recipe or not really even a craft, but we all know that the way to make a cheap change to a room is to paint it. Well, the same goes for furniture. Some people would never dare paint wood furniture, but I think for a little boy, painted furniture fits perfectly in his little boy room.

Here is a cheap desk we picked up from Craigslist- it didn't really match his furniture which is more of a blond wood:



I removed the hardware and sanded it and then used about 4 cans of spray paint to coat the desk. My husband used his paint gun to put a clear coat over it, but you could also use a clear Polyurethane.

And here it is now, painted dark blue:

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Ginger Snap Bars


This is a new recipe that sounded good.... but I was wrong. They were not good, they were fantastic! If you are lucky enough to get one of the corners as your slice, consider yourself blessed. Especially if you cut into them after just five minutes of cooling. I'm not sure how good they are completely cooled, but the first two rows I devoured warm and fresh from the oven were delicious!

Ingredients

3/4 cup butter
1/2 tsp. ginger
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup molasses
2 tsp. soda
1 egg
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cloves
2 Tbsp. sugar

Directions

Melt butter in saucepan; cool 5 minutes. Add remaining ingredients except 2 Tbsp. sugar. Spread in greased 15x10 inch jelly roll pan. Batter will be very thick. Sprinkle with 2 Tbsp. sugar. Bake 350 degrees F for 10 minutes. Do not over bake. Cool 5 minutes and cut into bars.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Coffee Filter Fish


This is another activity your kids can do that is very similar to the Coffee Filter Butterfly Magnets. Follow the same simple steps in preparing the coffee filter.

What you need:
1 round coffee filter
Markers
Spray bottle with water
Googly eyes
Elmer's glue
Glitter
scissors
scrap paper

Directions:

Flatten the coffee filter as much as possible.

Using the markers, sporadically color the coffee filter until it is mostly covered.



Place your colored coffee filter on either an old towel or a cooling rack with a towel or paper towel under it. Use the spray bottle to mist water all over the filter, soaking it. (You don't want the water to pool on the filter... just get it completely wet.)

The colors will soften and bleed together. Allow to dry completely, about an hour. (To speed this process, you can use a hairdryer to help it along).



Cut out a fish shape out of a scrap piece of paper (or resize and print this fish pattern) and trace onto your dried coffee filter. Cut out shape.

Decorate the fish with glue, glitter and googly eyes and any other artsy supplies you have laying around.

These would be a cute gift for a grandpa or a dad for Father's Day!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Potato Skins


Tonight my husband wanted potato skins with dinner. We thought we'd try to make them on our own and were surprised at how easy they are! And they tasted really good, too... better than at a restaurant.

Ingredients
6 whole potatoes
6 tablespoons butter (give or take... I didn't really measure)
About 1-2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese (again, I didn't measure)
4 strips of bacon, cooked and crumbled

Directions
Wash and poke holes in potatoes. Bake at 400° for one hour or until baked through.

Slice potatoes in half, lengthwise. Scoop out most of the potato, leaving a shell of about 1/4 inch. Put skins on a baking tray.

Place about 1/2 tablespoon of butter in each shell. Top with a good amount of cheese, covering the entire shell and mounding in the middle (about 2-3 tablespoons- you know... enough that will cause you to feel your arteries clogging as you eat the finished product).

Top each potato skin with crumbled bacon.

Broil on high until cheese is melted and browned, about 4-5 minutes. Watch carefully.

Serve with sour cream and chives.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Candybar Squares


This is a new recipe I just tried out for the first time. I got the recipe from my friend Tammy (thanks, Tammy!). They tasted fabulous-- although next time, I may cut the frosting in half or maybe not use peanut butter in it. My husband doesn't like peanut butter mixed in with his baked goods, so he's not a fan of these bars. Oh well-- more for me.


1 cup butter, melted

Mix in...
1 cup brown sugar, packed
3 cups quick cooking (not instant) oatmeal
1/2 cup corn syrup
1 cup flour

Spread this mixture into a greased 9X13 pan and bake at 350° for 18 minutes. It will look like it is NOT done but do not over bake. let it cool.

For frosting, melt together..
1 cup smooth peanut butter
1 1/2 semisweet chocolate chips

Spread this on top and sprinkle with 1/2-3/4 cup of crushed peanuts. Let frosting set before cutting into squares.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Grass Head Guys



I got this idea from Family Fun magazine. I can't stop looking at them when I walk by my kitchen window-- they are hysterical! They have grown so fast and my kids can hardly wait to give them a haircut! You can see the "hair" hasn't all grown in yet, but I couldn't stand waiting to post these cuties any longer. (edited- The picture to the left has already had a haircut only 5 days ago and has already grown back to this size! My kids are loving this grow and groom process!)


What you need:

2 tbsp grass seed
Nylon stocking foot
1 cup potting soil
Plastic yogurt container
water
2 googly eyes
Permanent marker
Double sided tape
Decorative paper, markers, glitter, etc for clothes.



Directions:

Spoon the grass seed into the stocking foot, and the soil on top of the seed. Tie a knot in the stocking, leaving the excess fabric hanging.



Fill a yogurt container halfway with water and place stocking head on top with the nylon tail in the water to serve as a wick.

Attach googly eyes to the head and draw a mouth on with a permanent marker.

To decorate the yogurt container, tape on clothing made from paper or other materials.

**Be sure to check the water level in the yogurt container daily, keeping it at least half full.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Sliced Baked Potatoes



This is a new recipe I tried today. I think they are pretty good and look sort of fancier than a regular baked potato. I think I took mine out too soon, however, since they were still a little crunchy. Or maybe I should just slice then thinner next time? I'll definitely try them again.

Ingredients
4 medium potatoes
1 tsp. salt
2-3 Tbsp. melted butter
2-3 Tbsp. chopped fresh herbs or 2-3 t. dried herbs (parsley, chives, thyme, etc.)
4 oz. grated Cheddar cheese
1 1/2 T. grated Parmesan cheese

Directions
Scrub and rinse potatoes; do not peel. Cut into thin slices, almost but not quite all the way through. You can put the handle of a wooden spoon under the potato to stop the knife from cutting through.

Put potatoes in a baking dish; fan them slightly so they are open a little. Sprinkle with salt and drizzle with the melted margarine. Sprinkle herbs over margarine.

Bake at 425 degrees F for about 50 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle with cheddar and Parmesan cheeses; return to oven for 10-15 minutes until lightly browned, cheeses melted, and potatoes are soft inside when touched with a fork.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Corn Flake Chicken Kiev


My mom used to make an awesome chicken dinner that was called "Corn Flake Chicken". I've shared the recipe with many friends and it has been coined a hit! Tonight, I decided to try a new take on it-- and turned ordinary Corn Flake Chicken into Corn Flake Chicken Kiev! My family ate it all up... and it was so easy to make. I didn't really follow a recipe, but I paid attention to how much I added of each ingredient:

Ingredients: (you'll need to adjust to make more)
2 chicken breasts
1 cup of Corn Flakes cereal, crushed
8 tablespoons butter, divided
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon seasoning salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh parsley, chopped

Directions:
Pound chicken to be about 1/4 inch thin.
Season chicken with salt, pepper and garlic powder.
Slice 4 tablespoons of butter into chunks and place 2 tbsp worth of chunks in a line in the center of each piece of chicken.
Sprinkle with parsley.
Tuck long sides of chicken in, and roll up from a short end, rolling as tightly as possible. Secure with toothpicks.

Melt remaining 4 tablespoons of butter.

Add seasoning salt to crushed cornflakes in a large bag or bowl.

Drudge each piece of chicken through the butter, coating completely and then through the corn flake mixture.

Place seam side down in a baking dish and pour remaining butter over the top of the chicken pieces.

Bake at 375° for 45 minutes or until juices run clear in chicken.

Coffee Filter Butterfly Magnets




These are cute little magnets that are a blast for the kids to make-- they love spraying their artwork with water and watching the colors soften and blend.

What You Need:
1 round coffee filter
Markers
Spray bottle with water
1 clothespin
1 pipe cleaner
Hot glue
1 small magnet
Googly eyes (optional)



Directions:

Flatten the coffee filter as much as possible.

Using the markers, sporadically color the coffee filter until it is mostly covered.



Place your colored coffee filter on either an old towel or a cooling rack with a towel or paper towel under it. Use the spray bottle to mist water all over the filter, soaking it. (You don't want the water to pool on the filter... just get it completely wet.)

The colors will soften and bleed together. Allow to dry completely, about an hour. (To speed this process, you can use a hairdryer to help it along).




Once it is dry, gather the coffee filter in the center, by pinching it together. Secure with pipe cleaner.



Attach clothes pin body by opening the mouth of the pin and grasping over the pipe cleaner. You can add googly eyes if you'd like, or else just use markers to draw the butterflies face.

Use the hot glue gun to attach the magnet to the backside of the clothespin.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Dorothy's* Peanut Squares


These are a staple for my Christmas baking-- even though they aren't exactly holiday looking (or even baked, for that matter). These bars are so high on the top of my favorite-things-to-eat list, that I can eat the whole pan myself. In fact, I do so every Christmas-- three times over. I make a pan for both of my sisters and a pan for my mom to include with our annual Cookie Exchange. I always end up eating all three of their pans of bars before ever making it to the exchange, and find myself having to whip up three more trays to replace the ones I've eaten. Luckily, they are quick and easy to make.

Ingredients
6 cups of Corn Flakes Cereal
1 cup of peanut butter
1 cup of packed brown sugar
1 cup of light corn syrup
1 cup of chopped peanuts

Directions
Mix peanut butter, brown sugar and corn syrup in a large pan. Cook on medium high on the stove top until mixture is combined and starting to be bubbly, stirring pretty constantly.

Remove from heat and stir in Corn Flakes and Peanuts.

Press into a lightly greased/buttered 9x13 pan.

Allow to cool before cutting.

* I'm not sure who Dorothy is of the famed "Dorothy's Peanut Squares". This recipe was passed on to me from my mom, whose name is not Dorothy. If I recall correctly, she got the recipe from an old neighbor... whose name, interestingly enough, is also not Dorothy. Somewhere out there is a gal named Dorothy that is responsible for more than half of the weight I gain during the Christmas season.... I'd love to thank her someday.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Sticky, Gooey, Yummy, Spicy Baked BBQ Chicken


You. Must. Try. This. Chicken.

It's a recipe that is excellent the night you make it and serve it hot. It's a recipe that is excellent the next day when you take it out of the refrigerator and serve it cold. It's not at all healthy... perhaps that's why it tastes so good? It's sweet, yet spicy.... sticky, yet smooth..... crunchy, yet tender.

Ingredients
4 whole chicken breasts, boneless, skinless
seasoned salt
garlic salt
pepper
2 tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce
1/2 bottle BBQ sauce
honey 1/2 cup
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup flour

Directions

Slice chicken into 1/2 inch strips (can use any size or type to suit your needs, works well with wings). Place the chicken in a in large bowl and coat with Worcestershire.
Sprinkle with seasoned salt, garlic salt and pepper. Put oil into frying pan and heat to med/high to fry chicken.

In a bowl, coat pieces of chicken with flour. Fry chicken in a skillet with oil on medium/high heat until golden brown.

Mix BBQ sauce and honey in a small bowl.

Place chicken on a cookie sheet or oven pan. Brush or drizzle BBQ mix over chicken and bake at 400F for 10 min.

Remove chicken - baste again with BBQ mix and return to oven and bake for an additional 10 minutes. (I actually just stir it around in the pan and then put it back in the oven)

Substitutions can be used for most ingredients. The important part is to fry, then bake with the BBQ sauce.

And just for giggles-- I thought I'd add a picture of the chicken I use for myself. I don't actually eat meat-- but I still cook it for my family. This is one recipe I would be missing out on because of being a vegetarian. So I substitute Morning Star Farms Chik'n Strips for the chicken breasts and follow the recipe as written. Here is what my fake chicken looks like when it's done:

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Bean's Bean and Bacon Soup



This is one of my favorite soups, not only because it tastes so delicious, but because it is so simple to prepare! I got the recipe from my friend Bean, who also has posted it on her blog, Coyote Craft. This is one of those foods that even after you've eaten as much as you could and are over-the-top full, you find yourself picking up the crust your daughter peeled off from her bread and left behind on her plate and dipping it into the remnants in the bottom of the soup bowl as you simultaneously clear the table.... and still taking yet one more spoonful to savor, as you put the lid on the Tupperware container that holds the leftovers.... it's that good.

Enjoy-

Ingredients:
1/2 lb bacon, cut up into small pieces
2 C. water
2 C. chicken stock
1 small onion, chopped
2 stalks of celery, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 cans Canelli (white kidney) or Great Northern beans
2 tsp salt
2 bay leaves



Directions:
Cook bacon until crisp in large pot.

Drain off excess grease and reserve 1/3rd of your bacon for serving.

Add water to the bacon in the pot, and scrape the bottom of your pot with a wooden spoon, releasing any bacon that stuck during cooking into the soup.

Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Turn heat to low, cover and let simmer for for 2-3 hours, stirring occasionally. Serve hot with biscuits or bread, and garnish with reserved bacon and a little shredded Parmesan if desired. Serves 4-6.

This recipe can be easily made in a crock pot, as well.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Recycled Crayons



This is a perfect way to use up all the broken tiny little pieces of crayons that nobody used and are at the bottom of the crayon bucket. You can recycle them and make new crayons in fun shapes! I made rainbow crayons... but next time I am going to make solid colored crayons. I can hardly wait to have a bunch of little crayon stubs so I can do this again.... it almost makes me want to sneak into the craft closet and break a few each night, hehe.

Here's how I made them:

I took a bunch of our broken crayons and peeled the paper off (which really stunk to do... and made me almost not finish my recycling project...). Then I chopped them up to be little pieces with just a regular knife and cutting board:



Then I put them in a mini muffin tin (or you can use a regular sized muffin tin) (you can line it with foil-- I didn't, and the pan came out clean with no problems):



And baked them in the oven (I started it at 150° but it was taking forever so cranked it up to 200°, which I will start at next time):



...until they were melted:



Then I popped them out once they were cooled. Voila! New rainbow crayons, that everyone wants to use because they are so cool and different.

I did notice that while they baked, they was separated a tad.... leaving the "top" to have a more clear wax rather than pigmented wax. Next time I make them, I may do like colors together in each well so that I can mix them up a tad while baking to keep them from separating.

You could also use a candy mold to make shapes and just melt the crayon pieces in a jar in super hot water and pour into the molds and allow to cool.